International Justice

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Murder charges against Venezuela opposition leader dropped

Murder charges against Venezuela opposition leader dropped

Peace with Justice

Somewhat similar to the protests in Ukraine, Venezuelans have been protesting about the government and its failure to represent its people. Recently, both Ukraine and Venezuela have had major military and civilian clashes during the protests.

In Venezuela, protests have largely consisted of students, but recently, more people from the opposition base have gotten involved. Leopoldo López, the unofficial head of Venezuela’s newly active opposition movement, was arrested by Venezuelan police who raided his home.

López made a dramatic appearance at a massive opposition protest. The speech by Leopoldo López was covered life by television news channel Globovisión.

Following the death of Hugo Chávez, President Nicolas Madura has been in office since April 2013. Maduro issued an arrest warrant for López, charging him with terrorism and murder after gunmen opened fire on a thousands-strong antigovernment demonstration in Caracas. López has also been utilizing social media like Twitter and youTube to rally Venezuelans fed up with shortages of basic goods. On Tuesday, he reemerged to lead another opposition march in Caracas, leading up to his arrest. Before his detainment, López tweeted: “The change we want is in every one of us. Let us not surrender. I will not!” In the midst of violence, social media platforms have allegedly been blocked by Maduro’s government and international media outlets have been attacked. The Maduro administration has undermined democratic institutions and controls all branches of the national government and the majority of state and local governments. Maduro’s people say protesters, led by López, initiated the violence while demonstrators say the authorities opened fire to scatter the crowd and killed three. Murder charges against López have later been dropped.

Human rights groups warned about the danger of turning the protests into a persecution of political opponents. And major social and economic problems in Venezuela have fueled the protests. The current Venezuelan administration controls the military and the state of the oil company, Venezuela’s main source of wealth.

Venezuela is of U.S. interest because of its reliable source of oil, however, the United States lacks the diplomatic tools, such as democracy assistance, to influence the outcomes in Venezuela. U.S. focus should be with regional and international partners to reduce the risk of violence and promote the restoration of full democracy. The states with the most influence in Venezuela, China and Cuba, are, unfortunately, the least likely to support change.

The arrest of López demonstrates a violent breakdown of political order which could potentially fracture regional consensus on democracy. I am curious to know what role truth commissions can play in this to investigate patterns of abuses and actions of Lopez and Maduro over the next several weeks. How will fueled protests affect U.S. relations with Venezuela? Venezuela has already expelled three U.S. diplomats this week, accusing them of conspiring to bring down the government. López has gained a lot of supporters for asking for the liberation for political prisoners and students towards an end to repression and violence. How much effect has public support for López had in his dropped charge and what will the Maduro administration do to guard/use its power?

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One response to “Murder charges against Venezuela opposition leader dropped

  1. jlcovello February 23, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    There is no doubt that tensions are running high in Venezuela. Even before the protests, the country was struggling both economically and politically. Over the last year, inflation has jumped to over 56%, crime rates are high, and gas shortages have left many of the store shelves empty and barren. Since the arrest of López, Maduro has vowed to crack down on other opposition opponents, calling the protesters a “disease” and accusing them of vandalism, violence, and plotting a slow-motion coup. Venezuelan human rights advocacy groups have reported that many of the demonstrators have been abused in detention by governmental forces. In more than 90 cases of detained protesters in Caracas, it was found that in nearly every instance the detainee had been physically abused by members of the security force and were threatened with beatings or rape. Also, most of the demonstrators were held incommunicado and were not taken before a judge within a 48-hour time frame as Venezuelan law mandates. There have also been many attacks on journalists who have been covering the conflict, many of them detained or beaten by security forces or pro-governmental factions. Between February 12-16, Public Space, an NGO that monitors media freedom in Venezuela, has documented 17 cases in which journalists were detained or assaulted. On February 20th, Maduro announced that the government was ending transmissions of CNN due to its portrayal of the protests and violence.

    However, while López and other members of the opposition are gaining support in their protests against the administration, especially in the wake of some of the administration’s violent reaction to such protests and their treatment of the media, there is one major obstacle that lies in their way: the specter of Hugo Chavez. Many people in the country are still wholly behind President Maduro because he is the hand-picked successor of Hugo Chavez. While he is not as charismatic or beloved as Chavez was by many, he is seen to be a faithful representation of everything Chavez stood for. Chavez was largely supported by the country’s poor, who had felt marginalized under previous regimes and saw him as a champion for their plight. Many of Maduro’s staunch supporters still call themselves Chavistas in dedication to their previous leader.Many of these Chavistas fear that the opposition against Maduro and the government want to go back to pre-Chavez Venezuela, which did not care about the poor, and so will continue to throw their hefty weight behind the existing government unless the opposition can convince them otherwise. This uprising might be between Maduro and the opposition, but Hugo Chavez’s influence will continue to be largely felt if the protests continue.

    Sources:
    http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/02/21/venezuela-violence-against-protesters-journalists
    http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/22/world/americas/venezuela-socialism/

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